This private member's bill, Bill C-364, would amend Canada's Elections Act and Income Tax Act in the following ways.
First, it would substantially lower the contribution limits to political entities. For example, it would reduce the maximum annual contribution that individuals could make to each registered political party from $1,550 down to $500, which is a reduction of more than two-thirds, and would make similar reductions for other political entities, such as candidates and leadership contestants.
Further, it would reinstate the quarterly allowance to political parties. This allowance was introduced initially in 2004 and then phased out in 2015. Finally, it would amend the Income Tax Act to increase the tax credit benefit for those contributing more than $750.
I would like to say that while I appreciate the member for Terrebonne's efforts to improve political financing in Canada, I also want to flag that there are elements of the bill that are cause for concern. First, this legislation is expensive. In fact, the parliamentary budget office website states with respect to the bill:
PBO estimates that, in total, the cost to the federal government will be $45.2 million in 2018, increasing to $46.2 million in 2021. The reintroduction of a quarterly allowance, which is paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to registered political parties, represents the overwhelming majority of the cost.
However, this is a time when our government is focusing federal resources on top priority issues like affordable housing, climate action, pharmacare, and help for the middle class and those working hard to join it. These are just a few examples of the work we are embarking on as a result of listening to the concerns of Canadians.
Our government knows that Canadians have good reason to be proud of our democracy. We will always have more work to do to make it even better, and we are going about that work. However, we cannot forget that there are already considerable supports existing in the system, specifically generous tax credits for financial contributors. Candidates and parties are also reimbursed for, or rebated, a significant portion of their campaign expenses from Elections Canada.
The tax credit for donations in 2015 cost the treasury an estimated $55 million. After the 2015 election, $60.7 million was reimbursed to parties and another $42.7 million went to the official agents for candidates' campaigns, for a total cost to Canadians of $158 million. Had Bill C-364 been in place in 2015, the total cost over the subsequent four years would have been $278 million, an increase of 76% over the actual costs. That number does not even include other subsidies contained in the Canada Elections Act, such as the provision of broadcasting time to registered parties.
Another financial concern is that this legislation would give larger tax breaks to those contributing more than $750. The Department of Finance predicts that this could result in a decline in federal revenues by up to $2 million in years when there is a leadership contest under way. I would also argue that this would be a regressive tax change. It would allow wealthier Canadians to receive a larger benefit for their donations.
The bill also removes the ceiling on what could be claimed under its provisions. By extension, this would be most beneficial to the wealthiest Canadians. Yet another concern is that this bill would drop contribution limits to leadership contestants from $1,550 to $1,000.
As members know, 2017 was the 35th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We all know that Canadians deeply value our charter, and we know it is a model for new democracies around the world. Section 3 of the charter guarantees every eligible Canadian citizen the right to vote and to run in an election. Section 2, which includes the freedoms of association and expression, gives Canadian citizens and permanent residents the right to donate to a party. This right is of course subject to reasonable limitations.
Political parties are a necessary and important part of our democratic process. They unite people who come from different geographic regions. They unite people who have different perspectives. Parties help to mobilize citizens around ideas they cherish. As former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci said, “Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.”
Canadians participate in our democracy not just by voting or donating to a party. They can also become politically active as a party volunteer. However, many Canadians do not have either the time or desire to support parties in that way, so for some, donating is how they choose to have their voices heard.
This is one of the big reasons why our government believes strongly in maintaining a balanced, open, and transparent political financing system. Be assured that we are continuing to review the rules for political financing to ensure that Canada has a balanced approach.
Another aspect of political fundraising that our government has been focused on is Bill C-50, which has recently passed third reading in the House of Commons, and is now being deliberated in the Senate. Bill C-50 would ensure that any fundraising activity, which costs more than $200, where a cabinet minister, including the Prime Minister are present, or a party leader or a leadership contestant is in attendance, must be reported five days in advance on the party's website, and the guest list must be disclosed publicly. This kind of reporting will ensure that Canadians have a more open and transparent fundraising system.
What is also interesting about Bill C-50 is that both Conservative Party members, and several newly independent members of this House, voted against this legislation, which, as I mentioned, would increase transparency in our political system. It is important to note that this also includes the member for Terrebonne, whose name is on the very bill we are now debating. He too voted against this important legislation improving our political system for Canadians.
The member for Terrebonne chose to bring Bill C-364 forward to the House. This bill would benefit wealthier donors by increasing their tax credits. As well, he and his colleagues voted against bringing greater transparency to fundraisers. These actions would move our democracy backward, not forward.
In addition to Bill C-50, the Minister of Democratic Institutions is also moving our democracy forward by ensuring more, and not fewer Canadians, have access to voting with as few barriers as possible. This is done through repealing elements of the previous government's so-called Fair Elections Act. We are also moving our democracy forward by focusing on protecting our democratic institutions from foreign influence in our elections.
In partnership with the Communications Security Establishment, we released a first-of-its-kind in the world report on cyber threats to our democracy. As technology changes and evolves, so must our efforts to defend from those wishing to disrupt our Canadian democracy.
To further move our democracy forward, the Prime Minister tasked the Minister of Democratic Institutions to examine and present options for a commission or commissioner to organize leaders' debates during federal elections. In support of that, the minister and I were happy to participate in cross-Canada meetings with stakeholders from the broadcast media, new media, civil society, and academia to listen to their views on this important issue.
Our government is focused on moving forward and not backward. We are focused on strengthening our democratic institutions. We are focused on matters that unite Canadians, and not on those that divide Canadians. For this reason, the government cannot support Bill C-364.
We must ensure that the conditions are fair for political parties, and at the same time recognize that Canadians have a democratic right to actively participate in their democracy by means of reasonable contributions.